Species: Cinclus mexicanus
Description: The American dipper is a medium-sized, gray songbird with white eyelids. It is almost always seen in or along rivers and streams and frequently bobs its body up and down.
Size: Seven inches from beak to tail.
Diet: The diet of the American dipper consists of insects and their larvae, fish eggs, and small fish. On rare occasions, these birds can dive up to twenty feet and walk along river bottoms in search of food! They can even move rocks along the bottom of a river to expose prey. To cope with such extreme conditions, they have a slow metabolism, lots of feathers, and the ability to carry extra oxygen in their blood. Other adaptations to an aquatic lifestyle are water-proofed feathers and the ability to close their nostrils with nasal flaps to prevent water inhalation.
Typical Lifespan: Approximately seven years in the wild.
Habitat: American dippers prefer rocky, unpolluted streams. Streams with cliffs, ledges, or bridges nearby are important nesting habitat. Mountainous streams often provide the necessary habitat, but American dippers can be found in altitudes ranging from sea level to over 12,000 feet!
Range: American dippers live year round in the western U.S. and into Canada and Alaska. They are also found in Mexico and Central America. They do not migrate south if their stream freezes over—instead, they move to larger bodies of water nearby.
Life History and Reproduction: Females decide whether or not to mate with a male based on his song. Nests are built in high places such as cliffs, boulders, or dams so that the eggs are protected from floods. Conditions are often very cold and wet when females lay their eggs, so mothers build an insulated nest made of two layers of moss, grass, leaves, and bark to insulate the eggs. Both adults take care of the young until they are ready to leave the nest, usually around 24 to 25 days after hatching.
Did You Know?
American dippers are our only aquatic songbird. They get their name because they constantly dip their heads in and out of water looking for food.
Conservation Status: Stable. Water pollutants and development along rivers and streams reduces the amount of habitat available to American dippers.
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- NatureServe Explorer